The time of Israel’s divided kingdom is not familiar to many people in our day. After King Solomon stopped following the Lord and worshiped the pagan gods of his many wives, God decreed that the kingdom would be stripped from Solomon’s son.
The split happened in 931 B. C.. The ten tribes of the north became known as Israel, and the two tribes of the south were called Judah.
The northern kingdom went immediately to idolatry, which continued as long as the northern kingdom of Israel lasted. In 722 B. C., Assyria wiped Israel out and scattered their people among other nations that they had conquered.
The southern kingdom was better than Israel, but it was far from perfect. Although it was smaller, it still included Jerusalem, the temple of God, and kings in the line of King David (through whom Messiah was promised).
Over the 350 or so years that Judah existed as a separate kingdom, the Bible identifies eight rulers that did what was right in God’s eyes. Some of those were more faithful than others, and some of them ruled for a very long time (King Uzziah, for example, ruled for 52 years).
While the stories of the good kings make for nicer reading, I want to tell you about the worst king of Judah. His name was Manasseh. His story is found in 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33 in the Bible. His father Hezekiah was one of the best kings in Judah’s history, but his example never made a spiritual impact on young Manasseh.
Hezekiah died when Manasseh was just 12 years old. He then become king and reigned for 55 years in Jerusalem. Instead of following the Lord like his father, the teen king went very bad. The Bible says he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
While Hezekiah had torn down the pagan shrines that had popped up throughout his country, Manasseh rebuilt them. He even turned God’s magnificent temple into a pagan shrine! To me, as a father, the height of his wickedness may be seen in Manasseh’s willingness to sacrifice his own sons in fire to the pagan god Molech in the Hinnom Valley just outside of Jerusalem.
The Bible says Manasseh used fortune-tellers, wizards, and sorcery. He sinned right in the face of God. As the king of God’s special nation, Manasseh was responsible for leading the entire nation in rebellion against God. The Bible says Judah sinned against God worse than utterly pagan nations around them!
God is holy and just. While he is amazingly patient, he does not tolerate wickedness forever. All sin must be judged by God. The judgment pronounced against Judah was incredible.
Because of Manasseh and Judah’s sin, God was going to allow Babylon (in modern Iraq) to come in and destroy Jerusalem, including the temple itself, while no doubt slaughtering many of the people along the way. The remaining citizens would be captured alive and taken as captives to Babylon for what would be seventy years.
While we have been so blessed by God to live in such a relatively safe and stable land, imagine another nation warring against us and demolishing our town and taking us and our families by force to live in their place virtually for the rest of our lives. Instead of being surrounded by people that spoke our language and ate our kinds of foods we would be outsiders. Instead of having religious freedom to worship God at church, we would be surrounded by pagan religion.
God was so mad at Manasseh and his people over their sinfulness. It might seem better to say that Manasseh was the ultimate last straw for God’s anger against Judah—except that in several places Manasseh is called out by name as the reason for the exile.
Amazingly, though, the story is not over. Before the final exile, the king of Assyria assaulted Judah, captured Manasseh and took him to Babylon with hooks and chains. While he was there he repented.
This was no jail-house religion. Manasseh completely humbled himself and sought God’s face. He prayed in his distress, and the Bible says that God heard his prayer. God actually forgave Manasseh for his sin. He literally got to return to Jerusalem, and his lifestyle proved that his heart was truly changed. He sought to clean up the temple and undo the idolatry in Judah that he had promoted for so many years. He commanded the people to only serve the Lord.
Many years later, God would follow through on his judgment promise to Jerusalem, but not during Manasseh’s lifetime. While many millions of sinners will burn in hell for all eternity, Manasseh will not be one of them. He will be in heaven.
How can that be right? That seems so unfair! Manasseh was so evil that God let the temple be burned, his city destroyed, and his chosen people deported. Yet, Manasseh could be forgiven? Where is God’s justice in this story?
The reason that God can and did forgive Manasseh is because of what he would do to Jesus some 650 years later. All of the wrath that Manasseh truly deserved, God poured out on Jesus. The beating, the mockery, the hell, and the death that was stored up for the most wicked King of Judah was inflicted on the most righteous King of Judah.
God would punish Jesus so that he could offer Manasseh grace and still be righteous. Somebody had to pay for all of that sin; Jesus did instead of Manasseh.
Manasseh’s story is a good one for you to think about. Although you couldn’t possibly have sinned as severely as Manasseh, you too have sinned against the Holy God of creation. You too deserve his fierce wrath. Somebody has to pay for your sins.
The good news is that since Jesus is eternal God the Son, his death is of infinite value to God. He can offer you the same deal that he granted to Manasseh. Jesus pays for your wickedness and offers you his righteousness. That sounds too good to be true—how can we know it is for real? God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.
Humble your heart before the Lord like Manasseh did. Repent of your sin. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you too will be saved.
By John Crotts